HowTo Chaos Workshop


One thing I strongly believe in is that all kind of knowledge must be shared with the biggest number of people. So, there’s Internet which have a lot of knowledge in it but I think it’s more effective to explain to people in the meat space, rather than letting them procrastinate watching My Little Pony on line.

So, I try to animate workshop, lectures, or whatever you can call them toward a lot of different public. There will be one in Paris newt week end (the jhack thing that RWB and Telecomix set-up) directed to journalist, but I do not want to talk about this, it’s, from my perspective, a bit of boring (same old shit, bla bla, tor, bla bla, gpg).

The fun part of workshop, are the Chaos Workshop. Those are the workshop we organise with the crazy hackers from Le Loop. They are always different, totally unexpected and, as we do not know really the audience at first hand, you cannot plan anything.

The last one, ended with around 80 people in a crowded place, to have a talk about cryptography, where I expected 20 for a workshop around anonymity. Was interesting, but total improvisation was needed (and I still do not know what kind of people was there).

Let’s get a fire started

The first thing you have to do is to get a fixer. Someone that is connected to a lot of people. Go bang at his door, when he wakes up in the morning (around 16:00PM) with some beer and tell him:

There will be a workshop about crypto stuff, Tuesday evening, next week. I’ve found some beer on my way here, here you are.

So, the organized part of the non-organized workshop is now done. Go at your home, have fun with whatever you have fun with, wait the Monday evening for the date and place, run before you’re too late and enjoy.

Wait, WUT?

Oh, you actually want to get there with some kind of preparation? You’re a lamer you know that? But ok, I can get it. It’s quite intimidating.

They came for a reason

Yes, you’ll have an audience. Those people have moved away from the relative comfort of what is their usual life to come here and listen at you (and assault you with questions, torture you with questions, questions you with questions). Do not be afraid, Cannibals groups are now dead (we ate the last one yesterday) so, they won’t eat you.

I fully understand that standing on a stage or whatever is a kind of intimidating, but as technician, BOFH, or what you do for your living, you always need to speak to people, even when you try to be creative to tell a stupid-ass that he can rot in hell.

So, the intimidation is not due to the fact you’re going to speak to people. It’s not like you’re doing a crypto workshop in a stadium (could be fun however), you will speak to curious people about something you like. They will forgive your mistakes as long as you acknowledge them.

So, they will squeeze all the knowledge they can have from you with a lot of interesting questions that will force you to be smart and to think fast to get a quick answer.

I will recommend you to get on stage clean. No beer, no coffee, no drug. You must be in full possession of your mind for the first 2 minutes. After that, do what you want, the inhibition about speaking to an audience should have been dissolved by adrenalin.

Know what you know

You cannot know everything. Be humble, and tell to the people when you do not know. Try to give them leads to follow, you must try to have them understand that they can learn fast if they’re willing to search for knowledge.

For the thing you know, do not make any assumptions about the tech level of your audience. You do not know them so you do not know what they know. You can only work with the ‘what are they supposed to know’. You must be exhaustive. If you want to do a lecture about how internet work, you must be able to answer most of the questions linked to it (what’s the difference with the web, what’s a protocol, what’s an IP, what’s a packet, what’s a wire), those questions are the funniest part of a workshop or lecture part.

So, be prepared to everything, and know where you do not know and what you know. One thing however, try to avoid looping in a tech discussion that will takes you a lot of time. You can do that later with the two or three people that will jump on you at the end of the lecture.

Know where you wanna go

Remember the fixer above? He probably have sent an email with the main subject that will get discussed. Grab a piece of paper and a pen, and note them. You now know what you’ll have to speak about. Do not stick to it, you are here to answer the people’s question and to teach them more or less interesting stuff (and less is more or the other way around).

Try to speak freely about all the topic, do not restrain yourself. From the prospective of your audience you are weird, you can only get weirder so, use memes, acronym, weird axiom. Shout KILL IT WITH FIRE when people asks you What can I do with Skype?’

Try to have a clock in your point of view, it could be useful to know if you gonna get home with the last subway, in taxis, with the first one. Believe me, you will have no more notion of time when speaking, so if you have to stick to a planning (this is not very Chaotic, I know), get a clock you can read from a distance. Or asks your audience how much time left you have.

The visual display

The tricky part. The visual display are here to present data and to emphasize your speech. Not to be you speech. I rather working without them, or with only one or two words written in huge fonts that will give some thematics.

The thing with visual display is that they are organized. You cannot jump from slide 1 to 5 then going back to 2, so you must know it by heart and you will have to stick to it. It can be interesting for a lecture with 100 people, but for a workshop it’s not a good idea.

So, if you choose to go with slides or any kind of visual display, do not put your text on it, or anything that will takes more than 4s to be read. You must be the awareness focus of your audience, not the thing that’s been displayed on the wall.

I know it will gives you confidence, but you can perfectly have detailed notes on a scrapbook to refer to in case of doubt or if you get lost. But, again, that’s only for more planned talks. In case of Chaos, deal with it and assume the fact you’re going to explore a lot of directions.

The things that must be done

If you want people to do stuff, tells them before hand to bring whatever they will need to do it. Be as agnostic toward the prerequisite as you can (do not rely on a specific distribution, hardware or OS for instance), go for the easiest troll if you want, but do not spend time on it.

Then, never ever do things on their computers. They must do it by themselves, even if you have to spell each and every command line. Tell them to RTFM and to use seeks every once and a while.

You will encounter unexpected problem. If you can solves them fast, do it. Else, note them, and move on. You can spend time on it at a later time and even fill a bug report.

I’m not very fond of demo. First, they often rely on the fact that people understand what you’re doing, and then they will never work as expected. Even if you have prepared them. However, grab some live-CD or USB keys with you, to show them how it can work, but if they discover it by themselves it will be better.

Aftermath of chaos revolution

When everything is done, drink some water, grab a beer and go discuss and answer to most of the questions people will ask you. The hardest part is done, you deserve some rest, especially since being under the spotlight is quite amazing, even if intimidating.

So, send an email to the fixer to thanks him, and give him a small resume of the discussion. Populate it with links to how-to and to the software you tells about to people.

Communicate about it, keep it open to everyone, a wiki is nice for that but it does not have to be like this. It can be a txt file or an etherpad or a pastebin. As long as people can get it, at a later time. It’s important, it’s the only way for you to climb up the ladder in the tech level of the workshop you’re doing.

What are you waiting for?

So, it’s not that hard to get in the chaotic battle against ignorance. It’s even fun, so join us, find a date, find a topic you wanna discuss, find a place and do it. Do not be afraid, it’s fun and you’ll learn a lot of things doing it, because you can only teach what you know, you’ll soon need to know more.

Let’s Rumble!

Have Fun!